Beasts of No Nation

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This article is about the book. For the film, see Beasts of No Nation (film).
Beasts of No Nation
Author Uzodinma Iweala
Country United States
Publisher Harper Perennial
Publication date

Beasts of No Nation is a 2005 novel by the Nigerian-American author Uzodinma Iweala,[1][2] that takes its title from Fela Kuti's 1989 album with the same name.[3] The book was adapted as a film in 2015.

The novel follows the journey of a young boy, Agu, who is forced to join a group of soldiers in an unnamed West African country. While Agu fears his commander and many of the men around him, his fledgling childhood has been brutally shattered by the war raging through his country, and he is at first conflicted by simultaneous revulsion by and fascination with the mechanics of war. Iweala does not shy away from explicit, visceral detail and paints a complex, difficult picture of Agu as a child soldier. While the book does not give any direct clue as to which country it takes place in, it remains undisclosed. The book is notable for its confrontational, immersive first-person narrative; Agu speaks in an idiosyncratic cadence of English that mimics sentence structure and expressions in Twi.

Plot summary[edit]

The novel is about a West African boy named Agu who is forced to become a child soldier. When war came to his family's small village, Agu’s mother and sister have to leave on a bus, but Agu, his father, and a shoesman stay behind. They try to escape, but Agu’s father is shot and killed.

Agu hides and is soon found by soldiers, who coerce him to join their rebel force. In a bloody initiation, the commander forces him to kill an unarmed soldier.

As Agu is forced to leave his childhood behind, he reminisces about the past: his family, his love of reading and school, his dream of becoming an important doctor, and how he used to read the Bible every day. He thinks about how he and his friend used to play at war and how this war is not the same. He fears that God hates him for killing others, but he soon forces himself to believe that this is what God wants, because “he is soldier and this is what soldiers do in war.” He befriends a mute boy named Strika, and together they face the crimes and hardships of war: looting, rape, killing, and starvation.

Agu loses track of time, understanding only that he was a child before that war but has become a man in a seemingly never-ending trial by fire. He wants to stop killing but fears that so doing will get him killed by the Commandant. During this time of war Agu and the army have very little to eat, so they eat what they can: rats, small game, goats, and sometimes other people. The food is not cooked enough for fear that others will see the fire, and the water is known to contain human feces. Agu and many other men in the battalion are forced to accept the commander's sexual advances; Agu knows it is wrong but is afraid to refuse.

His wish to escape the army finally comes true when Rambo, the new lieutenant, shoots and kills the commander. Sick and exhausted, Agu and Strika join the disbanded soldiers to try to make their way home. Along the way, Agu's only friend and confidante, Strika, dies, and Agu ultimately leaves his fellow soldiers.

In time, he comes under the care of a missionary shelter/hospital run by a preacher and a white woman, Amy. Agu gets new clothes and all the food and sleep he wants, and regains his health and strength. However, after having lived through a bloody guerrilla war, the Bible no longer holds any meaning for him. Amy invites him to share his thoughts and feelings, and Agu tells her he would like to be a doctor and save lives so as to redeem his sins. He also tells her about all of the evils he has had to commit during the war.

Film adaptation[edit]

A feature film was adapted by Cary Fukunaga, starring Abraham Attah as Agu and Idris Elba as the commander. It premiered on Netflix on October 16, 2015.[4]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Smith, Ali (3 September 2005). "The lost boys". The Observer. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  2. ^ Baker, Simon (4 December 2005). "A Boy Soldier's Heart of Darkness". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  3. ^ Geoff Wisner, review of Beasts of No Nation, Indiegogo Café, 14 February 2006.
  4. ^ "Netflix feature films". Deadline. July 2015.